Science Book a Day Interviews Colin Adams


Special thanks to Colin Adams for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Zombies & Calculus

Colin Adams is the Thomas T. Read Professor of Mathematics at Williams College. His books include The Knot Book, Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories, and How to Ace Calculus: The Streetwise Guide. He is the humor columnist for the Mathematical Intelligencer. – Princeton Press Bio

#1 – What was the impetus for Zombies & Calculus?

I enjoy very much thinking about ways to present mathematics in unusual ways, that will keep people’s attention long enough for them to see the beauty of the mathematics involved. I love the juxtaposition of two such different concepts, zombies and calculus. That in itself is eye catching, leaving someone wondering how these two topics could possibly be melded together.

#2 – Do you think there is a lack of understanding of calculus in the public? Or of mathematics in general? Why do you think this might be the case?

Mathematics is a highly tiered subject. You have to understand each level before you go to the next level. And if you have a bad experience at one level , that may be the end of your interest in mathematics. So although I do believe most people understand the importance of mathematics, they often also fear it and see it as a cold set of numbers and equations. In fact, it is a highly creative field.

#3 – As a way of communicating mathematics, do you think tapping into ideas of popular culture has its pluses and minuses?

No. I see it only as pluses. Because math can be intimidating, any way you can find to make it more palatable is worth the effort.

#4 – How have you students and fellow staff responded to your book? What feedback have you received about the book from the general public?

The feedback has been almost entirely positive. People love the idea of such an unusual application of mathematics. But there are a few who are unhappy. There are those who just don’t like zombies and therefore believe they do not belong in the mathematics literature, and then there are a few zombie afficianados who don’t like my take on zombies. They have very set ideas on the rules for zombies and are unhappy if someone bends those rules.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

Right now, I am working on a book related to my research area which is the mathematical theory of knots, but I am thinking about what my next expository project will be.

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